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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Study examines academic, social causes of sleep deprivation

Many college students are paying little heed to the recommended eight hours of sleep mantra.

Last month, the Sleep Quality Index and the Center for Disease Control’s National College Health Risk Survey was released with less than desirable results.

Out of the 859 students who partook in the survey, 76.6 percent reported occasional sleep problems and 82 percent reportedly experienced “general morning tiredness.”

The findings of the survey said certain behaviors were linked with less sleep and poor sleep quality. Drinking, smoking, fighting and suicidal thoughts were more prevalent in students with less sleep. Twenty-eight percent reported having insomnia.

The Journal of Adolescent Health added that 68 percent of college students, age 17 to 24, have problems sleeping due to stress. This group had a heightened use of prescription, over-the-counter and recreational drugs.

Dr. Steven Brass, assistant professor of neurology at UC Davis and co-medical director of the Sleep Medicine Division at UC Davis Medical Center, said the demand of classes, social activities and a new atmosphere are significant reasons why college students tend not to get the recommended eight hours of sleep.

Another cause behind some students’ restless nights may be due to a delayed sleep schedule.

“Teenagers and young adults often naturally develop this delayed sleep phase,” Brass said.

This disorder of sleep timing causes an individual to feel more comfortable going to bed at times not typically associated with a class schedule. For example, a person with a delayed sleep phase feels more comfortable going to bed at 2 a.m. and waking up at 10 a.m., Brass said.

Both behavioral and physiological consequences accompany sleep deprivation. Brass said that limited sleep can worsen any mood disorder, cause trouble with attention and memory and increase the risk of accidents. If sleep deprivation is long-term it could potentially lead to health problems such as diabetes and obesity.

First-year animal science major Ford Peterson attests to many of these effects.

“It’s hard to get up [without enough sleep] and my overall awareness is definitely impacted,” Peterson said. “In class it’s rough.”

Peterson also said dorm life makes sleeping well difficult.

“Home is much more comfortable,” Peterson said.

Rachel Aquino, a junior communication major, said that part of the explanation for why college students have a hard time procuring sleep stems from the new liberty college life offers.

“It’s harder to have discipline because we have more independence [than in high school] and don’t exercise self-control over sleep,” Aquino said.

USA Today published an article that referenced a study at St. Lawrence University, which examined a common student study tactic. The research found that sleep deprivation in the form of all-nighters was not a successful study method. The study found a correlation between sleep and grade point average: those who slept more had higher GPAs.

Member of the UC Davis Women’s Volleyball Team, Katie Denny, an undeclared sophomore, emphasizes how important it is to budget time to avoid procrastination, and in turn, sleepless nights.

“I need [sleep] that much more because I have to be alert and on top of it for both volleyball and school,” Denny said.

A common misconception says alcohol causes sleepiness. Brass said that apart from not contributing to sleep, alcohol actually causes fragmented sleep. Fragmented sleep is light with interruptions and little, if any, time in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage.

There are some actions that can improve sleep “hygiene,” Brass said. Sleep hygiene encompasses a number of practices, including a regular sleep schedule, no large meals before bed, limited caffeine after noon, abstaining from naps in the afternoon and avoiding exercise within four hours of bedtime.

“Your bed should be used just for sleep,” Brass said.

Activities such as homework, movie watching and internet surfing should be allocated to a different section of the bedroom, signaling the mind and body to associate the bed only for sleep.

Although sleep hygiene is beneficial, in the end, college students just need sleep – plain and simple – to combat sleep deprivation and its repercussions.

“The best pill for sleep deprivation is sleep,” Brass said.

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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